By Gino Blefari
This week my travels find me in Irvine, CA for meetings with our HSF Affiliates teams and employees. Unfortunately, an injury kept me sidelined from Omaha, NE and the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting over the weekend but I followed along with the progress and commentary that came out of the event, which provided enlightening insights into the mind and mastery of the Oracle of Omaha, Mr. Warren Buffett.
I’ve spoken before about the serendipitous connection I feel with Mr. Buffett—I was born in a town where everything was called “Berkshire,” my mom was born just 12 days apart from the famous investor and like Mr. Buffett, she used to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her kids—and so it should come as no surprise that I research and review his philosophies on leadership, life and business quite closely. Here are some major takeaways gleaned from what he revealed at Saturday’s meeting:
- Good deals are made of the same foundational structure. Buffett said this about companies he’d want to acquire: The businesses must have a competitive advantage over the next five to 10 years, strong management teams and be offered at a fair price. Aren’t those three key components to the sustainable success of any organization? In fact, these three aspects could be considered WIGs (Wildly Important Goals)—create a lasting competitive advantage, build a robust leadership team and price your offerings to fairly compete in the marketplace.
- Leadership starts at the top. This one may seem obvious but it’s all about accountability. When something goes right, it’s easy for leaders to take credit. Not as easy? When failures occur (and in all businesses they always do). When something goes wrong, leaders must possess the sometimes-difficult ability not to deflect but instead to take the blame, assess the situation, formulate a plan and move forward with a workable solution. As Mr. Buffett said at the meeting: “At some point if there’s a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. And at that moment, that’s the key to everything, because the CEO has to act.”
- Life is about balance, about making healthy choices but weighing these with the benefits of happiness and enjoyment. When talking about his daily Coca-Cola habit, the investor said, “If you told me that I would live one year longer—and I don’t think I would—if I’d live one year longer if I ate broccoli or asparagus or whatever, or if I eat what I like including Coca-Colas and steak and hash browns, I’d rather eat what I like and enjoy eating what I like than eat something I don’t and live another year.” As I always say and Mr. Buffett reiterates, it’s about balance. You know how much I advocate healthy living but I’m never one to turn down a good steak!
- It’s important to stay humble, admit your mistakes and use them as lessons not crutches, then move on. “We never owned a share of Amazon,” Mr. Buffett said. “I admire Jeff [Bezos, Amazon CEO] but I did not think he’d succeed on the scale that he has, and I didn’t even think of the possibility that he’d do the things with the cloud services. I never even considered buying Amazon.”
So, what’s the message? Success breeds success. In other words, if you want to accomplish your goals, find mentors and masters in your industry, people whose life work is not only admirable but also inspirational. Diligently study exactly how these leaders made it to the top then forge your own path inspired by the knowledge you’ve learned. As Mr. Buffett once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”